November 1, 2011

Kirchner's "Father Müller"

        Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) is not, on the whole, an artist whose work I admire.  As one of the founding members of "Die Brücke" group attempting to break away from the traditional academic style of painting, I think his work tries way too hard to be harsh and shocking just for the sake of being different.  But I do have to give him and his fellow proto-Expressionists credit for helping to revive and elevate the woodcut as a legitimate artistic medium.  And they weren't just using it to reproduce black line drawings as it was generally being used at the time.  They experimented with what the medium could do: simplifying, using large areas of black, creating rough-hewn textures, and experimenting with bold patterns.
        One thing I dislike about Kirchner's work is that his people all look so sour and mean.  But I found a couple of exceptions, which I like very much.  The first is "Father Müller," who was a Swiss farmer in the area where Kirchner was staying while he tried to recover from the trauma of World War I.  I love the stark dignity of this portrait.  He looks as if he has a bit of a twinkle in his eye despite being weary.  Kirchner printed only a few copies of this block, two in color and the rest in black.  I actually like the color version better, even though the black version shows the carving more clearly.
        I also like this portrait of "Ludwig Schames."  Schames was an art dealer, which explains the nude in the background.  Apparently Kirchner made the portrait from memory.  I love his beard!

[Pictures:  Father Müller, wood block print by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1918,
(color version from Moma collection,
black and white from Yale Art Gallery);
Portrait of Ludwig Schames, wood block print by Kirchner, 1918, (image from Yale Art Gallery).]

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